"A new model for exploring emergent phenomena in spatially explicit ecology and evolution"
We have begun to develop and explore a model of ecology and evolution in a spatially explicit context. At this point, either sexual or assexual individual animals are represented as individual agents that can consume energy (possibly in the form of other animal agents), move across the landscape in limited ways, reproduce, and die. Death may occur prior to reproduction if the animal has not obtained a sufficient amount of energy. The foundation of the food web is represented by plants, which are currently represented as a lawn that is seeded (in the biological sense) randomly with regards to space. The genomes of the animals are represented by strings of numbers analogous to the strings of nucleotides in DNA, which determine the energetic requirements of the organism. Mutation, and sexual recombination in the sexual mode, provide sources of novel genetic/ecological types. We plan to initially study the self-organization of individual gene pools (evolution of discrete polymorphisms; symmetrybreaking) driven by both disruptive selection and the scale-dependent threshold for the emergence of locally distributed forms. We will also examine how imposed (not responsive to the bios) heterogeneities on the landscape influence the patterns realized through such self-organization. We also expect that this model will permit emergent speciation; so we can use it to explore the evolutionary outcomes of ecological interactions among reproductively isolated, and semi-independently self-organizing, species. Taking the opposite perspective, we will also be able to explore the ways in which the evolution of species molds patterns of ecological interaction. There is a great deal of mathematical mean-field theory that considers these kinds of interactions, and our model should be able to recreate the outcomes predicted by this body of theory when approximating the mean-field assumptions. We anticipate that the novel contribution of this model to theory will come from systematically studying the conditions leading to emergent structures in the population biology context and in revealing the consequences of bi-directional ffeedback between ecological and evolutionary processes.